Senate Dems nix public look at health care bill

Senate Finance Committee Democrats have rejected a GOP amendment that would have required a health overhaul bill to be available online for 72 hours before the committee votes.

Republicans argued that transparency is an Obama administration goal. They also noted that their constituents are demanding that they read bills before voting.

Democrats said it was a delay tactic that could have postponed a vote for weeks.

The Democrats noted that unlike other committees, the Finance Committee works off conceptual language that describes policies — instead of legislative language that ultimately becomes law, and which the GOP amendment would have required.

Democrats accepted an alternate amendment to make conceptual language available online before a vote.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus heard some encouraging words Wednesday from a key centrist Democrat as he opened the second day of a committee meeting to debate and vote on his sweeping health overhaul bill.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said she only wants to support legislation that reduces the deficit and holds down long-term costs. Baucus’ bill, she said, “does meet these very important goals … setting us on a sustainable path for the future.”

Lincoln is up for re-election in a conservative-leaning state so she’s one of the moderate Democrats Baucus, D-Mont., needs to win over in his committee — and whose backing President Barack Obama will need if Congress is to deliver on his top domestic priority.

Her comments underscored the delicate juggling act for Finance Committee Democrats as they deliberate Baucus’ nearly $900 billion, 10-year bill: Making health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans while holding down spending.

Baucus’ legislation, built along the lines Obama is seeking, aims to extend coverage to most uninsured Americans, expand protections for those already covered and generally reduce the ruinous growth in medical costs nationwide.

The first day of the committee’s meeting to debate and vote on the bill dragged late into the night Tuesday with Republicans raising a slew of questions, from the legislation’s cost to its basic constitutionality, and only one amendment out of 564 pending came to a vote. That was a non-controversial measure, approved by voice vote, creating a test project in Medicare to allow hospitalized patients to be monitored electronically from afar by specialists.

As the committee took up a daunting task that has thwarted past congresses, Baucus heralded the occasion. “This is our opportunity to make history,” he said.

By the end of the night he just wanted an end in sight. “At some point we’ve got to get to amendments,” Baucus said as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, raised question after question.

“We’ve got to understand what’s in this doggone bill,” Hatch complained. “This is not some itty-bitty bill. This could wreck the country.”

Baucus is aiming to get the bill through his committee by the end of the week and ultimately he’s expected to succeed. But if Day One was any measure, there will be plenty of fights along the way.

In a sign of the tensions evoked by the bill, several committee Democrats called for increasing the rebates that drug companies must pay the government for certain low-income patients. That would breach an agreement among the White House, Baucus and drug makers under which drug companies have agreed to pay $80 billion toward the cost of a health overhaul, including reducing prescription drug prices for some seniors.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., complained that he and others were never part of the deal with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and were under no obligation to protect drug makers from further costs.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, responded angrily that the deal would stand, noting that the White House helped adopt it.

Baucus kept his mouth shut through the debate on drug costs but postponed a vote on the amendment until Wednesday. The amendment’s author, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the change would raise some $86 billion which he would use to protect seniors enrolled in private insurance plans under Medicare from any changes under the legislation.

Despite Obama’s repeated claims that Medicare benefits will not be cut, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf told senators Tuesday that the elderly in the private Medicare Advantage plans could see reduced benefits under Baucus’ bill.

Baucus’ bill is the most conservative, and cheapest, of five bills in Congress, and as a result committee Democrats and the one Republican whose vote Baucus is courting — Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine — had concerns about whether it did enough to make insurance affordable for people who will face a new requirement to buy it.

Baucus announced $50 billion in changes Tuesday to address that issue. The most significant would sweeten the subsidies for individuals and families with incomes up to four times the government’s poverty level — which would work out to be $43,320 for individuals and $88,200 for a family of four. Baucus also decided to reduce the penalty for families who defy a proposed requirement to purchase coverage, from $3,800 to $1,900.

Elmendorf estimated in a letter to Baucus that some families with annual incomes in the range of $66,000 could wind up spending as much as 20 percent of that — $13,300 — in out-of-pocket health expenses such as premiums and copays. The changes Baucus announced Tuesday would reduce that somewhat but the estimates still alarmed some Democrats.


Associated Press writers David Espo and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.


  1. hologram5

    Typical garbage, hide it from the public that way once you push it down everyone’s throats, it’s too late to fix anything. Good way to buy yourselves a revolution. You are going to bite off more than you can chew morons. You elected officials ooze contempt for the American people. You have been given everything and give nothing in return. You are disgusting and a sorry excuse for elected officials. You and your ilk WILL be replaced in a blink of an eye. Once you sign this sorry excuse for health reform you’ll find that you have done your constituents a great disservice and will pay dearly for it.

    To Boldly Go…
    Anywhere there is sanity…

  2. Carl Nemo

    Spot-on hologram5! You’ve nailed the sob’s dead in their tracks concerning this typical legislative scam; ie., hatch out bills in secrecy at the committee level, then rush it through for a vote, mostly unread by the greater portion of Congress.

    To me this is an example of the Patriot Act redux except this time it’s related to healthcare with the intent of the government meddling in every aspect of our lives from our collective mouths to buttholes, to our bank accounts; ie., womb to tomb intrusion in our lives. Once any bill is passed then it will be the faceless agency bureaucrats interpreting the bill and turning it into a byzantine, frightful nightmare.

    It’s time for major change and it is my hope that ever larger, angry crowds march on D.C., both “ruining the lawn” and their days so-to-speak…!

    Btw, our President is the “liar in chief”…!

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. woody188

    It isn’t coincidence that the only sector of the economy still hiring Americans outside of government, health care, is under attack from the government for being profitable.

    Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain

  4. Procrustes

    The idea that the government would attack profitable industries just because they are profitable is just plain asinine. Let’s see, muses the “government,” we rely on taxes, including corporate taxes, so we want to make certain that all industries that are profitable stop doing that.

  5. woody188

    That is essentially what has occurred. They rely on deficit spending and inflation today, not taxes. Though ultimately they will need to return to taxes to pay the debt. But for now they are happy to spend us into oblivion.

    Corporations pay between 0% and 6% of revenue on taxes, down from 35% plus from the 50’s while individuals pay 26% or more in income tax, up from zero before 1913.

    It’s considered polite to refrain from name calling during debate. Might try it some time.

  6. Carl Nemo

    Hi Procrustes,

    Your point has some merit, but analyzing how our government has been instrumental in destroying much of that which was once good in modern times, one has to think again.

    Maybe they aren’t intentionally working at the destruction of this nation, it just comes part and parcel with large, unresponsive governments regardless of their time in history.

    Rome basically failed, not because of barbarians at the gate, but far too much of their national wealth was squandered on adventuristic wars along with high taxes and an intentional long term debasement of their money.

    It’s happening right now to the U.S. courtesy of the Fed~U.S. Treasury axis. They’ve decided to inflate in order to pay back our creditors with ever cheaper dollars. Commodities are beginning to take off and once it gains momentum, the price of everything is going to incrementally increase regardless of the fact we have major unemployment. It’s called “stagflation”; ie.,a hybrid beast that’s reared it’s ugly in modern times. The Far East and other third world areas are booming while our GDP is flat to non-existent in relative terms.

    Carl Nemo **==

  7. Pogo

    The devil is in the details. They are going to wreck your life if you do not have the money the corrupted government is forcing us to pay to a corrupt insurance company. Bribe taking scumbag congressman should be on trial for bribery and treason.

    I will never vote for another democrat or republican again. Libertarian or working family party or anything else is my new party.

  8. woody188

    Good for you Pogo. I assume by “Bribe taking scumbag congressman should be on trial for bribery and treason” you mean Baucus. Lots would agree I’m sure, particularly with the 500+ changes already submitted. :)

    Be sure to check out the Constitution Party and Libertarian Party. I voted Constitution Party last time around but if another party had the right candidate I’d cross-over and support them. It is about the best person for the job.

    Oh wait, voting is a sham. Nevermind. Sometimes I forget we live in a post 9/11 bizarro world where “justice” is rape and sodomy of prisoners.